Bright future for brilliant Benfica after back-to-back title triumphs
Porto did not take too kindly to settling for second billing behind ‘big three’ Portuguese rivals Benfica last term but, try as they might, the Dragons did not wrestle top domestic honours back from the Eagles this season.
Jorge Jesus is basking in Stadium of Light glory, with Lisbon giants Benfica matching their fellow heavyweights’ result in the penultimate Primeira Liga clash to ensure they retained the title.
For all the lauded loan recruitment done by Porto counterpart Julen Lopetegui from his native Spain, Benfica’s own present and future looks set to bear them further fruit.
Anderson Talisca, on the cusp of senior squad involvement with Brazil and someone Coral’s football experts are tipping to establish himself during their World Cup qualifying campaign, has been the breakout star of the Eagles’ season.
While tasty attacker Talisca is behind senior strikers and compatriots Jonas and Rodrigo Lima in Jesus’ pecking order, he netted nine times when playing off the later was a lone frontman during the autumn. This resulted in the 21-year-old winning Portugal’s Player of the Month award in back-to-back months.
Dutch cap Ola John, 22, has largely been used by Benfica as an impact sub with a less direct approach and more compact formation often favoured.
Elder statesmen punctuate defence as well as attack, though, with two more ex-Brazil internationals, skipper Luisao at centre back and Julio Cesar between the sticks, joining Uruguay centurion Maxi Pereira, 10/1 with Coral to help his country retain the Copa America this sunner, as regulars.
Some of these names need to be replaced before they fade. Bruno Varela is first-choice goalie for Portugal in his age category (Under-20) and should be targeting first-team action next term.
Navigators squad player Andre Almeida, meanwhile, may be presently known for his utility, but could be a long-term option at 24 down his natural right-hand side of defence.
Down the other flank, 23-year-old Swiss left back Loris Benito could come to challenge compatriot Ricardo Rodriguez for a starting spot at international level should he flourish under the Eagles’ wing.
In central defence, Cesar Henrique Martins, 22, has similarly had a taste of the first-team set-up and there’s also 20-year-old out of contract Swedish prospect Victor Nilsson-Lindelof, who could be lost if no place can be found for him.
For the engine room, Greece’s Andreas Samaris has nailed his spot down and is only 25, so his best years are yet to come. Portugal’s Pizzi is also that age, and seems to have settled on operating centrally.
Long-term options abound for Jesus here as there is 20-year-old ex-AC Milan man Bryan Cristante and Polish prospect Pawel Dawidowicz, whose teenage years end before the final Primeira League game, as backup.
Goncalo Guedes, like Talisca for Brazil, is expected to graduate into Portugal’s senior squad, and could be the heir to Cristiano Ronadlo’s throne as star forward. At 18, there is plenty of development to do but the potential is there, as the above nifty skills highlight reel shows.
Spearheading the Eagles attack of tomorrow could be Uruguayan frontman Jonathan Rodriguez. Aged 21, he already has five caps and is in with a shout of a squad spot as La Celeste attempt to defend the Copa America.
Arriving at Benfica in January, the club have sensibly given him time to settle in and started Rodriguez in the reserves. This gentle approach has paid dividends with him netting seven in six there.
Check out how the Benfica team of the future could shape up below: